Depending on when you read this, Mikey McLeod will either be en route to New Jersey, or already there. The Devils’ first-round pick in 2016 (12th overall) was set to drive down today from Mississauga with fellow Toronto-area pivot Joseph Blandisi for his first pro training camp. And while McLeod is expected to return to the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads for the 2016-17 campaign, Devils fans should be excited about his promise.
“There’s not a lot of stress if I can put it on Mikey’s stick,” said Steelheads defenseman Nic Hague. “He wheels with the puck and it’s pretty special to watch. Last year, I remember getting an assist where I picked up the puck behind our net, stopped there, he came, picked it up and went end-to-end. I thought, ‘right on.’ He’s just a special skater.”
Speed is McLeod’s calling card, but he also prides himself on playing a competitive, 200-foot game. That was evident in the third period of a penalty-filled, 3-1 exhibition loss to Kitchener Wednesday night, as McLeod did his best to even up the result.
This will be a big year for the first-rounder, as he also takes on the captaincy in Mississauga, a team with so much talent up front, they just traded highly-regarded Kirill Niznikhov to Barrie for a slew of draft picks – a player they just picked seventh overall in the summer.
“I’m going to take more control off the ice as well as on the ice,” McLeod said. “Lead by example and play the same way I did last year, a full 200-foot game.”
While injuries hampered McLeod’s gross numbers last season, the potential in the 6-foot-2, 195-pound pivot is obvious. He spent the summer working with skills coaches, but didn’t just focus on the obvious stuff. “A lot of little things that people don’t really think to practise,” he said. “Not so much skills, but slowing the game down and finding different ways to turn and make plays, to throw off defenders. It was more about how to be successful in the NHL, not the OHL. What I have to do to make the big league and stay up there.”
While they aren’t similar in their styles, Patrick Kane is another player who has worked on that sort of elusiveness in the past. Along with that drive to be more offensively beguiling, McLeod’s work ethic shines through and that will be a hallmark of his leadership in ‘Sauga.
“His compete level – he comes in every night and wants to win,” Hague said. “There’s no one better to be our captain. He brings that high tempo every day and it makes players rise up to his level.”
While the Steelheads lost in the first round to Barrie last year, the veteran Colts were expected to blow the doors off the young Fish. But Mississauga held fast and pushed Barrie to seven games and the team intends to build off that this season. Even with star import Alexander Nylander leaving for the pro ranks early, McLeod has an array of weapons surrounding him. One of those players in linemate and right winger Nathan Bastian, who followed McLeod to New Jersey in the draft, going in the second round, 41st overall.
“It was pretty cool,” McLeod said. “I was sitting in the stands with some of his friends and we were counting down the picks. I kinda had a weird feeling he would land there.”
And if the pair carried their chemistry up to New Jersey in the future? All the better for the Devils.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.